What is ADHD?
Unfortunately, children with undiagnosed or untreated ADHD can struggle with schoolwork, self-esteem, and interpersonal relationships. Even worse, it is possible for uninformed individuals to label these children as “lazy,” “bad,” “undisciplined,” or “troublemakers.” In addition to increasing appropriate awareness about ADHD, it is important to seek diagnosis and treatment for children with this condition. Early childhood intervention (usually before age 7) is one of the best ways to help young children diagnosed with ADHD.
What are the Red Flags for ADHD?
To the untrained eye, it is easy to confuse ADHD with behavior that a child will “grow out of” or with a learning disability or other medical condition. There are also co-existing disorders may cause an adult to overlook or misinterpret what is actually ADHD. It is important to watch out early for the signs of ADHD and contact a pediatric mental-health professional if an evaluation is needed. Even within the disorder itself, there are three subtypes of ADHD:
- Predominately inattentive ADHD – The vast majority of symptoms fall under types of inattention
- Predominately hyperactive of impulsive ADHD – The majority of behaviors are hyperactive or impulsive
- Combined ADHD – Symptoms are a blend of inattentive and hyperactive traits
Understanding that a child with ADHD can be highly inattentive, hyperactive, or both can help you look out for red flags without have preconceptions about the disorder (such as assuming that “all children with ADHD” are always hyperactive and energetic).
The Top 14 Red Flags for ADHD
- Impulsive – Children with ADHD tend to be self-focused, so they may not recognize others’ needs, desires, or social cues. This does not mean these children are inherently selfish or rude. Rather, from a neurological standpoint, they may be centered on a signal focal point or idea. To others, this can appear to be impulsiveness or trouble with interrupting and taking turns.
- Interrupting – Because children with ADHD are self-focused, they may have trouble looking outside of themselves and following the typical structure of games or conversations. As a result, they may interrupt or “speak out of turn” to express themselves (even if the other person has not finished talking). It is not because these children are intentionally rude – it has more to do with them feeling that what they have to say is important.
- Trouble Taking Turns – Children with ADHD may struggle with waiting their turn in the classroom or on the playground. They tend to be self-focused on what they believe to be important and have trouble with external rules and cues.
- Emotional Turmoil – A characteristic of this disorder is that a child has trouble processing and expressing their emotions. This can lead to outbursts as these children attempt to express how they feel.
- Inability to Sit Still – Children on the hyperactive end of the spectrum may struggle with “fidgeting.” Because their minds are in constant motion, they may have a harder time sitting still.
- Problems Playing Quietly – Similarly, children with ADHD may have a hard time interpreting “quiet time” or settings for quiet play. Internally, their minds are in constant motion or “on the go,” so they may try to express themselves with noise.
- Problems Finishing Tasks – Children on the inattentive end of the spectrum may have problems finishing tasks. These children are often genuinely interested in a lot of things, but inattentiveness makes it difficult to follow through with all instructions or fully complete tasks. This can become a problem in areas like studying, completing homework assignments, or finishing chores.
- Trouble Focusing – ADHD can cause trouble focusing on the issue at hand. This can even occur if the person is speaking to them directly. For example, a child might make an effort to focus but have a hard time repeating instructions or remembering the second and third steps.
- Dislike of Tasks That Require Sustained Mental Effort – These children may avoid or dislike activities that require strenuous mental effort (such as ongoing classwork or homework). It does not mean they are lazy. Rather, because they have a hard time focusing, these activities require a sustainable effort to successfully complete.
- High Prevalence of “Careless Mistakes” – Children with ADHD may demonstrate a high number of “careless mistakes” in areas like schoolwork or housework. Rather than laziness or low intelligence, it can instead be a sign of inattentiveness.
- Daydreaming – Those on the inattentive or combined part of the spectrum can suffer from chronic daydreaming. These children may get lost in a daydream or staring off into space – even as other children are actively playing or doing schoolwork around them.
- Problems Staying Organized – Problems with organizations are one of the telltale signs of children struggling with ADHD. These children can have a hard time keeping track of required tasks and activities. This can pose a problem with successful performance in school or with self-help/adaptive requirements.
- Forgetfulness – Because of inattentiveness, children with ADHD can be forgetful. They can forget not only schoolwork and chores, but also where they placed items like books and favorite toys.
- Inattentiveness and/or Hyperactivity across Various Settings – Another red flag is that children with ADHD can show the same traits across various settings. They do not “act out” in school simply because they do not like it. Rather, they tend to display the same traits in school, at home, during sports practice, and so on.
If you have noticed red flags for ADHD or have questions about early childhood intervention and treatment, contact The Warren Center for more information.